Tim Challies | The Lord has been forcing me to learn about prayer. And it’s a good thing since I’m finding myself in one of those times in life when prayer is coming only with difficulty. It was a blessing to attend a local pastors’ fellowship on Monday where I enjoyed a panel discussion about prayer and the pastoral ministry. And it was a blessing to record an interview this morning with Dr. Joel Beeke, a man who is known not only for writing books on prayer, but for being a man who loves to pray and who prays powerfully.
When discussing prayer, I find that there is always a lot of value in the little nuggets, the little pieces of gold that are encountered in conversation. While listening to an hour-long panel discussion on prayer, each person in the audience picked up on a few little things that impacted him. And the same was true in my conversation with Dr. Beeke.
I want to share with you just a few of the things that have been resonating in my mind.
Pray in Jesus’ name. To pray in the name of Jesus is to pray with his authority in a way that claims his power. In prayer I should always be asking, “In whose interest am I praying? What is God’s agenda in this?” In other words, I need to make sure that I have a conscience sense of praying to the Lord, the King, the Sovereign One. I pray not only to this God, but I also pray in his power and with his authority. That merits a “wow!”
Use model prayers. One of the best ways to learn to pray is to use the New Testament prayers as a model. The Apostle Paul always brings home what he has been teaching through his prayers. So learn these prayers, learn how they relate to the letters, and learn to pray them first for yourself. Let Paul be your teacher.
Pray within your capacity to believe. One pastor said that we often pray beyond our capacity to believe. He used the example of praying for the salvation of his wife’s parents. He and his wife would pray that the Lord would save them, but they were praying without faith; though they knew God could, in theory, do this, they doubted that he actually would. What they decided to do was to pray within their capacity to believe, and so they began to pray smaller, incremental prayers for things they truly could ask in faith. In a similar situation you might pray that the Lord would bring your parents just one Christian friend, or that they would hear the gospel just one time, and so on. And once that prayer is answered, you can then pray for the next, slightly bigger thing. All the while you are ratcheting up your prayers while acknowledging God’s incremental answers to them.
Do not stop praying until you get through to God. This pastor said that you need to labor in prayer until you feel that you have gotten through to God. He particularly warned against stepping into the pulpit and preaching before first gaining a sense of the Spirit’s presence and power. If the preacher cannot go into the pulpit in the power of the Spirit, how can he expect the Spirit to then speak to the people?
Prayer is better caught than taught. Do you want to know how to pray? Then spend time with people who pray and pray with them. Do you want your children to learn to pray? Then pray with them and let them catch the ability to pray. There are few shortcuts here.
Prayer changes us, not God. The purpose of prayer is not to change God, but to change us, to realign ourselves according to his purposes. Prayer is not an attempt to twist the arm of God or to bend him to our will. Instead, it is God’s means of changing and transforming us, driving us to joyfully submit to his will.
Pray warmly. Dr. Beeke asked what right anyone has to feel that he should be able to pray warmly out of the cold blue. If we want to enjoy warm fellowship in prayer, we should first be willing to spend time with the Lord in the Word and in meditation. This warms the heart and draws us to the Lord, igniting our prayer.